Nicaraguan Neighborhood Provides Housing to the Poorest

This post is an English translation of an article that was originally written in Spanish by Andrea Penman-Lomeli. The original article can be found here.

Their plan allowed for the urbanization of an area that had been unoccupied for ten years, providing services and recovering the city’s investment.

Housing Cooperative in León, Nicaragua

Housing Cooperative in León, Nicaragua

Currently, Faniz Jirón is the owner of her home, where she can plant fruit trees near her house. She lives in what today is the housing cooperative Juntando Manos, but ten years ago she had no other option but to rent. “I sought alternatives to save for a house but I could not find them,” says Jirón. She and a lot of people who are low-income in León—the second most populous city in Nicaragua—found a solution thanks to the Urban Expansion Project of Southeast León.

Before, this was a rural area that had no housing or services. However, through this project, in five years the city managed to produce 3,000 lots for low-income people. At the same time, in ten years, the city managed to recover the investment that it had made.

The initiative started with a $1,408,000-dollar seed capital fund, a result of a collaboration between the city of León and the city of Utrecht, Netherlands. It is estimated that in fifteen years, 6,416 lots that house 32,000 people have been developed. It went from being a vacant and deserted piece of land to an environment where there is pavement, electricity, storm drainage, drinking water, public transportation, and other services. This earned it the recognition of “best practices” in urban planning issues from the United Nations Habitat (UN-Habitat). But how is it that such a large space was developed in a progressive and equitable manner?

Housing Cooperative in León, Nicaragua

Housing Cooperative in León, Nicaragua

When the city council approved the Plan in 1996, there was a strong need for land in the region. According to UN-Habitat, the annual growth rate was at 4.3%, this because of the migration of people from rural areas to the city of León. In 1998, 32.7% of the urban population was identified as living in poverty. All of this was happening after a period of civil war and economic restructuring, were there was not much public investment. After the 1990 elections, the cities were to be responsible for their own urban development. “All of the cities were saying ‘Who is going to help us?… Nobody,’” explains Marc Pérez-Casas, researcher at the Universidad Politécnica de Cataluña in Barcelona, Spain and consultant at the Inter-American Development Bank. “They had a good amount of land without infrastructure, without electricity, water, etc. They wanted a way to develop this space and provide an opportunity to purchase it.”

During the first phase (1999 – 2008) of this plan, the cities of Utrecht and León created the Office of Urban Expansion of Southeast León/Oficina de la Expansión Urbana de León Sureste (EULSE). The EULSE would sell the land and give credit to low-income families with family wages between $120 and $440 dollars (the average wage in Nicaragua is of $330 dollars a month) and who could prove that they did not own other property. The lots, which were vacant, cost between $1,100 and $4,500 dollars and the families would buy them with a financing option of a 10% interest rate from the EULSE—which continues to be a very favorable rate in Nicaragua. According to a study done by Pérez-Casas [and Francesc Magrinyà Torner], microfinance institutions offer financing to low-income families at interest rates that range between 26% and 36%.

“There was financing accessible to low-income families so that they could purchase this type of dwelling…this is what is new,” says Pérez-Casas. The family could not occupy the land until they had paid half of the loan, which in general took a year and half to do so. “I pay a lot less a month than when I was renting,” says Jirón. Before, her rent was $70 dollars a month. Today she pays $30 dollars a month, which will result in the ownership of her home.

Housing Cooperative in León, Nicaragua

Housing Cooperative in León, Nicaragua

In the analysis of the first phase (1999 – 2008), it was found that the cities had recovered their seed capital investment and that the land had been progressively urbanized. “In the year 1999 or 2000, all of the infrastructure had not been built, rather it was done little by little. In fact, it took them five or six years to have water and electricity,” says Pérez-Casas.

The plan depended in a revolving fund, meaning that it is a fund that invests the profits in the same plan to purchase more lots and infrastructure. “The most important thing of all of this is that since that urbanization was coming from the public sector, they had reserved spaces for public facilities,” says Pérez-Casas. In those areas, the government built schools, health centers, community centers, and parks.

The urban expansion of southeast León has been a learning process through action. Innovations that continue to influence the community emerged from the plan. For example, the cooperatives. In these [cooperatives], the families gathered to ask for budgets and buy land in groups, which ended up creating a community.” It was a very nice experience because not only is it a housing cooperative but we also ended up being partners and developing a community. There is a more humane coexistence,” says Jirón. Organizations such as We Effect supported these cooperatives and created models that were replicated in many neighborhoods. She was a part of one of the first cooperatives and worked five years for the mayor, to support others that were trying to do the same.

Building Group of Housing Cooperative in León, Nicaragua

Building Group of Housing Cooperative in León, Nicaragua

Another unexpected development was the interest in the Urban Expansion Project from the private sector, who would buy the lots from the city at a higher price and then resell them to middle class families. “[The city] took that capital gain, that extra income that they had, and were able to invest it to finance part of the structure,” explains Pérez-Casas. Here two interesting processes occurred. “You have the private sector build where one wants, in other words you are facilitating an area of expansion,” says the expert. “[On the other hand], they sell to families with moderate incomes; therefore, you mix different social classes.” This is positive since you minimize the segregation and diversify the communities. In the second phase, of the 3,200 lots that were sold, 1,500 of these were for the private sector and the other 1,700 [lots] were for the public sector.

In the future, Pérez-Casas says that the control of prices will be a challenge, since during the time that the urbanization has taken place, the prices of the land have increased. This makes it difficult for cities to buy more lots.

While other cities depend on private financing for their urban development—Nicaragua has no urban planning laws and recently in 2000 it passed a housing law—León has found an equitable way to do it. According to the study of Pérez-Casas [and Francesc Magrinyà Torner], this formula can also be replicated in other cities. “For me, one of the most important things is that the city projected where the population was going to grow, but it also developed a land policy,” says Jirón. And this policy has impacted her daily life. “Now we have more security, more control over our lives.”

Credits: Data and images linked to sources.

H/T CityLab Latino


Sanctuary City: A Closer Look at the Effects of Executive Order No. 13768 to the Public Safety of the City of Los Angeles

*This blog post is part two of a four-part blog series dedicated to the topic of sanctuary cities.


City of Los Angeles City Hall

City of Los Angeles City Hall, Los Angeles, California

In part one of this blog series, discussion centered on the meaning, history, and significance of sanctuary cities in the United States. The account is in consideration of the Executive Order: Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States (Executive Order No. 13768) signed by President Donald J. Trump in January 2017, which targets sanctuary cities. Yet, what does this executive order mean for the City of Los Angeles? What would be the public safety consequences in Los Angeles if the executive order is implemented?

With a population of more than four million people, Los Angeles is the second most populous city in the nation after New York City. There are people from approximately 140 countries that call this metropolis their home and at least 185 languages are spoken. Furthermore, according to a study from the Pew Research Center, it is estimated that there are 375,000 undocumented immigrants residing in the City of Los Angeles—this number increases to one million for the Los Angeles metro area. Thus, it is one of the most diverse cities in the United States.

In 1979, aware of the changing demographics that were taking place in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) adopted Special Order 40. The Special Order prohibits police officers from initiating contact with a person with the purpose of determining his or her immigration status. Special Order 40 was adopted to encourage undocumented immigrants to report crimes to the police without the fear of deportation—this as a mechanism to ensure the public safety of all Angelenos regardless of one’s legal status in the country. However, the Special Order does not protect undocumented immigrants who have been arrested for multiple misdemeanor offenses, a high-grade misdemeanor or a felony offense, or have been arrested for the same offense a second time.

Eric Garcetti

Mayor Eric Garcetti showing solidarity with walk-ins at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA), Los Angeles, California

Following the November 2016 presidential elections, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck expressed their continued commitment to uphold Special Order 40 and have Los Angeles be a safe place for everyone. In fact, in March 2017, Garcetti signed Executive Directive 20. The executive directive includes language in which it orders the City’s Fire Department, Airport Police, and Port Police to adopt policies and procedures that are consistent with LAPD’s existing immigration enforcement policies and procedures—this includes Special Order 40.

However, the executive order is an obstacle in ensuring the public safety of places like Los Angeles. This policy includes language that threatens to cut federal funding from cities that do not cooperate with federal immigration authorities by reporting undocumented immigrants, even if these individuals have not committed serious or repeated offenses. The executive order claims that sanctuary cities willfully violate federal law by protecting undocumented immigrants and has resulted in immeasurable harm to the people of the United States and the country. Therefore, the policy authorizes Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III (Jeff Sessions) and Secretary of Homeland Security John Francis Kelly to take away federal funding from sanctuary cities, except as deemed necessary for law enforcement purposes. Given the ambiguity of the term “sanctuary city,” Garcetti and Beck—along with other mayors and law enforcement officials—have requested John F. Kelly to provide a fixed definition of what the federal government considers to be a sanctuary city.

Despite the claims made by President Trump, several studies have concluded that there is no correlation between crime rates and the levels of immigration. Both census-data driven studies and macro-level studies indicate that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than the native-born population. In fact, some of these studies have found that a higher immigration rate contributed to a decline in certain types of crimes. One explanation for the lower criminality rates is that immigrants who commit crimes can be deported.

Mayor Eric Garcetti

Mayor Garcetti announcing the new expansion of Community Safety Partnership in South Los Angeles, California

Although the executive order has not yet been fully implemented, the policy is already impacting cities like Los Angeles. Chief Beck recently indicated that there has been a drop among Latino Angelenos that are reporting domestic violence and sexual assault. Sex assault reports are down 25-percent and domestic violence claims are down 10-percent year-to-date. Beck attributes the decrease to fears of deportation from the Latino immigrant community.

President Trump argues that by signing this executive order, the public safety of our communities will be improved. However, in Los Angeles the opposite effect seems to be taking place, as there is already a decrease in reports of domestic violence and sexual assault among Latino Angelenos. Furthermore, such policies only jeopardize the existing relationship between the immigrant community and local police authorities, as it creates a climate of distrust from immigrants towards police officials. What have been the public safety benefits of declaring your community a sanctuary city? What alternative policies and practices could be adopted to improve the public safety of our communities?

*It should be noted that Mayor Eric Garcetti has refused to use the term “sanctuary city” when referring to the City of Los Angeles. He has indicated that he still is not sure what a sanctuary city is.

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

Sanctuary City: The Meaning, History, and Significance of Adopting These Protective Policies

*This blog post is part one of a four-part blog series dedicated to the topic of sanctuary cities.

Barstow Presbytarian Church, Barstow, Texas

Presbyterian Church, Barstow, Texas

In January 25, 2017, President Donald John Trump signed the Executive Order: Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States. The order contains a clause that targets sanctuary cities in the United States. Arguing national security concerns, President Trump’s executive order seeks to cut billions of dollars in federal funding from sanctuary cities, counties, and states that harbor undocumented immigrants. If implemented, the order would negatively impact sanctuary places across the nation.

What is a sanctuary city? While there is no single definition for a “sanctuary city,” it usually refers to cities, counties, and states that have adopted policies that limit their cooperation or involvement with federal immigration authorities. In general, this means that these places decline most requests to detain, pursue, or report undocumented immigrants who have had contact with local law enforcement. However, these protective policies do not safeguard immigrants who commit serious or violent crimes.

The idea of sanctuary cities dates to the early 1980s. At the time, Central Americans were fleeing the civil war and violence in countries like El Salvador and Guatemala. Yet, the United States government initially refused to grant them refugee status. In response, churches decided to provide sanctuary to these immigrants.

San Francisco City Hall

San Francisco City Hall, San Francisco, California

The concept was later adopted by communities whose local officials viewed the federal immigration policies as harsh towards individuals who were arrested for minor, non-violent crimes. Furthermore, both local police and politicians have indicated that not collaborating with immigration authorities encourage immigrants to report crimes to local authorities and make communities safer. This concern is reiterated in a report published in May 2013 by the University of Illinois at Chicago. The report’s findings reveal that when local authorities collaborate with federal immigration officials, it becomes more difficult to investigate crimes because victims or witnesses that are undocumented immigrants are less likely to come forward since they are afraid of being detained and deported.

There is not an exact figure as to the number of sanctuary cities and counties in the United States. However, according to data collected from the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, there are 635 counties where the local police does not currently collaborate with requests from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency to hold immigrants in detention (ICE detainers) for additional time.

Despite the president’s threat to withhold federal funding, mayors and police chiefs from major cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco have reaffirmed their commitment to uphold sanctuary polices. Moreover, they have expressed their opposition to the executive order. Local government officials from these cities argue that cutting federal funding from sanctuary cities would generate adverse effects to the economy, public safety, and social fabric of these communities.

Yet, some of the claims made by opponents of sanctuary cities are:

  • Sanctuary cities encourage undocumented immigration;
  • Sanctuary cities compromise public safety because it results in crimes that could have been avoided through deportation; and,
  • Sanctuary cities provide haven for drug cartels, gangs, and terrorist cells—since their activities are less likely to be detected and reported by law enforcement.
Local Police Assistance with Deportations

Local Police Assistance with Deportations by State, United States. Source: Immigrant Legal Resource Center

However, Tom K. Wong, associate professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego did a study on sanctuary counties. Wong analyzed a sample of 2,492 counties from an ICE dataset. In the sample, 608 counties were identified as “sanctuary counties” because local law enforcement did not accept detainers requests from ICE to hold suspected undocumented individuals in custody for additional time. Some of his findings include:

  • There are 35.5 fewer violent and property crimes per 10,000 people in sanctuary counties versus non-sanctuary ones;
  • On average, sanctuary counties had higher median incomes (by about $4,353);
  • There is lower poverty (by 2.3 percent) in sanctuary counties; and
  • Sanctuary counties have slightly lower unemployment rates (1.1 percent)

Therefore, Wong concluded that sanctuary counties that protect all of their residents have a lower crime and higher economic well-being than non-sanctuary counties.

 As of the writing of this blog, the executive order is under litigation. San Francisco was the first city to sue the president arguing that it is a violation of the Constitution’s Tenth Amendment.

The president argues that implementation of the executive order will ensure the public safety of the nation. However, by targeting sanctuary cities, the order will only serve an antithetical result, as the public safety, economy, and social fabric of local communities will be affected. It will discourage undocumented immigrants from collaborating with local law enforcement, dissuade them from contributing to the local economy, and ultimately separate them from their families. What policies does your community currently have that would identify it as a sanctuary? How have sanctuary policies benefited or affected your community?

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.



Re:Code LA Provides the First Update to Los Angeles’ Zoning Code in Sixty Years


Los Angeles, California

The last time the City of Los Angeles updated its zoning code was in 1946, when it was first adopted. This was more than sixty years ago. Since then, the zoning code has grown from an 84-page pamphlet to a book that is more than 600 pages long. The amendments, conditions, and overlays that have been added throughout the years have made it a burdensome, unclear, and complicated document for the present day development of the City of Los Angeles.

But what is a zoning code? Put simply, a zoning code is a set of rules that regulate what can be built, where it can be built, and how it is used. For example, it specifies how tall a building can be, what industries are allowed in what areas of a community, and how much parking is required in an apartment complex.

Aware of this reality, the City of Los Angeles Department of City Planning has undertaken the cumbersome task of updating the zoning code. Known as re:code LA, the project seeks to do a comprehensive revision of a code that is considered to be inadequate to fulfill a 21st century vision of a better Los Angeles for all of residents. The re:code LA project began in 2013 and it is expected to be completed in 2017. It is estimated that the five year project will cost $5 million. Some of the features of re:code LA include:

  • Dynamic Web-Based Zoning Code: A clear and predictable Code that better meets the needs of the City of Los Angeles, while also providing an interactive online experience.
  • Guide to Zoning: An easy to read guide to the new Code’s land use and development regulations.
  • Unified Downtown Development Code: New zoning tools customized for Downtown Los Angeles.

Los Angeles, California

The revision to the City of Los Angeles code is necessary in a city that is 469 square miles and is inhabited by 3.8 million people, making it the second largest city in the United States. This metropolis is comprised of a variety of neighborhood and landscape types that include dense urban areas, such as Koreatown, and suburban single family neighborhoods in the San Fernando Valley.

Re-code LA seeks to achieve the following goals with this update to the zoning code:

  • It will be easier to understand by everyone;
  • It will be more business friendly;
  • Streamline and in some cases speed up the review process; and
  • Consolidate as many uses as possible into more comprehensive categories of use.

However, the current update to the zoning code should not be confused with a change of policy. For example, if you work in a commercial area, re:code LA will not change it into a residential area. To achieve a change in zoning policy in the City of Los Angeles, one would have to undergo a separate process, which begins by filing a zone change application.

What measures is your local government taking to address current and future development in your community? What zoning code regulations have you found beneficial in the sustainable development of your community? 

Credits: Image #1 linked to source; Image #2 by Audelia Maciel.  Data linked to sources.

*This blog was originally posted in June 2015. H/T The Global Grid